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Central League Preview and Team-by-Team Breakdowns

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Strath Haven

PETE BANNAN DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA
Strath Haven quarterback Jake Fisher passes against Interboro last season.

Fisher will use his well-rounded gifts for the Panthers

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> As the Strath Haven High football team worked through its preseason, Kevin Clancy outlined two plans for Jake Fisher.

One: Make things happen when the Panthers have the ball.

Two: Arrive back safely when they don’t.

“Exactly,” Clancy said, with an exhale.

Not that the legendary coach hadn’t done it his first 28 seasons at Strath Haven, particularly with NFL-player-to-be Isaac Jones two decades ago, but he has found himself in a spot where he will have to ask his quarterback to be a key defensive player, too. Reality, and some good fortune, left him with few alternatives.

The reality is that Strath Haven, unlike some other programs in the Central League, is finding it increasingly difficult each season to attract willing football players. For that, Clancy will play up to 16 players both ways.

The good fortune, as it relates to Fisher, is that his quarterback is also the strongest player on the team, winning every weight-room contest and offseason accolade.

The quarterback?

“First time I can remember that,” Clancy said. “But, yes, he’s the strongest guy. So we will use him on defense some. The defensive coach wants to use him all the time. I say, ‘No, he’s our quarterback. He can’t be out there the whole time.’ Right now we’re talking free safety.”

So it will be for Fisher, the 6-1, 185-pound senior. He’ll be a quarterback first, and a safety second. Or could that possibly be the other way around?

“I like offense,” he said. “But I love playing defense. Defense is a whole different level of brotherhood on that side of the ball.”

More to the point, it does give the strongest Panther the occasional chance to create, not just absorb, contact.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he said. “We don’t really have that many free-safety blitz packages. But you never know.”

As is typical in the balanced Central League, Strath Haven is facing another you-never-know kind of season. So it was last year, too, before the 6-6 Panthers nudged into the postseason and won a game at Bishop Shanahan before being ousted by Unionville.

With Fisher back at quarterback, hopes literally are stronger.

“He’s a big guy,” linebacker John Prochniak said. “He is a leader on this team. He pushes everyone. He pushes me. He is the strongest kid on our team and he makes everybody better around him because he’s that type of player. He is just a leader.”

Through his youth football career, which wound through the Rose Tree program, Fisher played just about every place. But he was a lineman before he was anything else, and, in the weight room at least, he never lost that urge to grow.

“I get on the linemen to keep up a little bit,” he said, smiling. “But it’s all fun. I love it. I love being in there with the team. And Coach (Erik) Hollingsworth in there with everybody. It’s just awesome.”

The Panthers have had their awesome moments under Clancy, twice winning state championships. This season they will count on running back Ibo Pio, All-Central fullback Zack Hussein and tight end Ethan Belville, among others, to surround Fisher with options. Prochniak, lineman Ryan Krouse, back Arion Ford and center Sam Burk will also be of high value.

“We have a real tight core group of guys,” Fisher said. “If we are able to stay together, then we’ll be all right. I just want to help out the team as much as I can.”

Twice as much, if necessary.

Kevin Clancy, the winningest coach in Delco high school history, runs practice at Strath Haven.

A NICE PICK

Despite a .500 regular season, the Panthers reached the Class 5-A playoffs last season. They won their first-round game at Shanahan when linebacker Prochniak made a late interception to set up Emmet Young’s game-winning field goal.

“It was surreal moment,” Prochniak said. “I can’t even explain it. It was like perfect. Slow motion. It was awesome. And I’ll never forget it.”

ROLLING A 300

The victory over Shanahan was the 300th in the legendary career of Clancy, once a Delaware County Daily Times Sports Figure of the Year. That includes his first 67, which came at Archbishop Carroll.

The chances of 301 … and beyond?

“It’s the same thing as always,” Clancy said. “I like the veteran kids, the front-line kids. There are some good football players there. But our issue continues to be depth.”

Why?

“Enrollment is about the same,” Clancy said. “But the number of kids playing football continues to be an issue. But even back in the championship years, we were playing seven or eight guys both ways. You’d like to be in a situation where only your very, very top players are playing both ways, four to five kids. We might be a little more than that.”

Fisher, the quarterback, doesn’t view that as a crisis.

“This year, the team is just full of athletes,” he said. “That’s what it is. We all fit. We have a lot of playmakers. And I think we can compete with any team in the league this year.”

A TIGHT SHIP

Clancy is high on tight end Ethan Belville.

“He was an all-league player, and right along with Fisher is one of the really top players on the team,” he said. “He is one of the better players in our league.”

ZACK ATTACK

The Panthers will count heavily on Hussein, their star-quality fullback.

“He is a 195-pound back, a tough, hard-nosed runner,” Clancy said. “He was a key to the offense last year.”

Jake Fisher

PLAYER TO WATCH ON ‘O’

JAKE FISHER >> As the quarterback’s production goes, so should Strath Haven.

“He’s just an all-around athlete,” Clancy said. “He understands the game. He’s physical. He’s fast enough, probably a 4.7, something like that. He’s tough.
“I think he is Division I (material).”

PLAYER TO WATCH ON ‘D’

John Prochniak

JOHN PROCHNIAK >> The junior had a strong enough sophomore season to rise into conversation about the Central League’s top underclass talents.
“We’re looking good,” he said. “We have a lot of skill. We’re hoping we keep growing and get better as a team and hopefully we come out with a home playoff game this year and hopefully win some games and hopefully get to the District championship and win the Central League.
“We’re going for it all.”

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